Overflowing in Many Thanksgivings
2 Corinthians 9:6-15 – Cultivating a Heart of Thanksgiving
23rd Sunday after Pentecost – November 12, 2017 (am)
Cultivating thankful hearts, that is our aim during this month of November. The benefits of doing this are known far and wide. A 2014 article written by psychotherapist Amy Morin and published on Forbes.com was titled, Seven Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude…. Want to hear them?
Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends, according to a 2104 study published in Emotion. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So whether you thank a stranger for holding the door or you send a quick thank-you note to that co-worker who helped you with a project, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.
Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups with their doctors, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.
Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kind, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.
Grateful people sleep better. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.
Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem, which is an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs—which is a major factor in reduced self-esteem—grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all you have to be thankful for—even during the worst times of your life—fosters resilience.
Closing statement: We all have the ability and opportunity to cultivate gratitude. Simply take a few moments to focus on all that you have—rather than complain about all the things you think you deserve. Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life.
So, hey, let’s just do it, huh? If it’s one of the simplest ways to improve your life, let’s just (develop) a heart of gratitude! Ready?
But it’s not quite that simple, is it? For people who are not feeling particularly thankful right now, just deciding to be thankful anyway can seem anywhere between insincere and just plain wrong. It’s hard to overestimate the resistance of the human heart to change, even to positive, helpful change. Affirming that thanksgiving can improve your life may help a few, but it also provides a whole new way to fail!
Last week we gave ourselves some assignments in response to the charges in Psa.100. We wrote down three things: 1) one specific thing we’re thankful for with regard to our salvation, 2) one recent answer to prayer, or provision of God, or an encouragement we know came from Him, and 3) one specific person who should hear of our thanksgiving to God for them. But how is this any different than just jotting down a few (thankful thoughts) before bed?
The difference is where our attitude of gratitude comes from—it is not self-generated. And it is surely not (simple). The whole foundation the power of the exercise we recommended last week was stated right there in the closing verse of Psa.100—the psalm that charges us to worship, praise, and thanksgiving—5 For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
The objective and intervening work of God is the foundation of our gratitude. The thanksgiving we’re spotlighting is a response to the loving and faithful expressions of Another. It’s not a self-generated, self-help strategy. And we see that point developed yet further in our text today. Let’s walk through 2Co.96-15 in three steps.
A Summary Lesson on Sowing and Reaping – 6-10
In 2Co.8-9 Paul is speaking to the Corinthians about an offering he’s receiving from Gentile churches to assist the… Jewish believers (in) Judea who had been hit hard by… famine (Kruse NBC 1199). The churches in the Macedonian region (Philippi and others) had already given sacrificially: beyond their means, he reported, and of their own accord (8:3), begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part (8:4). And they didn’t do this just to please Paul. They did it in response to God’s grace given to them. They were enabled by Him. They gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us, Paul wrote (8:5). 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
In our passage today, Paul is bringing this section of his letter to a close. He’s making advance (arrangements)… so that (the offering will) be ready when he arrives (5). And he’s pressing to make sure it’s a willing gift, not… an exaction (5). Their gift must be characterized by generosity and joy (Hafemann 365) because those are the unmistakable marks of giving that is enabled by the grace of God. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful, generous, joyful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that you’re able to give—having all sufficiency in all things at all times, so that you may abound in every good work, including giving.
It’s the righteous man and woman who are enabled to give in the way that pleases God. They distribute their wealth freely, even to the poor, as one clear manifestation their righteousness endures forever (9), just like the righteousness of the God Who enables it. Paul is quoting from Psa.112 here (9), a psalm that praises God for the blessedness of the man who fears the Lord (1) right on the heels of Psa.111 that praises Him for His many mighty works—these are companion acrostic psalms. One of the mighty works of the Lord is to provide for those who fear and serve Him—He enables their generosity, their joyful giving.
10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing—the sowing that, when done bountifully, will produce a (bountiful) harvest, but not the sort you’d expect. It’s not of the harvest that prosperity preachers often twist this passage suggest—he… will… increase the harvest of your righteousness. He’ll strengthen your sanctification. He’ll make you more like Himself. He’ll make you even more generous and give you even more to give! So ends the summary lesson on sowing and reaping. And now:
An Insightful Linking of Thanks and Giving – 11-15
11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us, as they deliver this offering, will produce thanksgiving to God. In fact, 12 (their gift will) not only (supply) the needs of the (church) in Judea, but (will) also (overflow) in many thanksgivings to God.
What Paul is saying here over the next few verses is that, first, this generous and joyful gift from the Corinthians will produce thanksgiving in their Judean brothers and sisters because their needs are being met (12), but they will also glorify God because of the gospel confession and submission to God among the Corinthians that shows itself in such generosity (13). The Corinthians’ contribution to this offering and others provides such undeniable evidence of the surpassing grace of God upon them (14) that the Judeans will be left compounding one thanksgiving on top of another (12), and all of it is saying essentially one thing: 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! Only God’s gift in Christ, applied to human hearts, could bring about the quality of generosity they were seeing.
The Corinthians’ thankful giving left the Judeans giving thanks, thus cultivating thanksgiving upon thanksgiving—an insightful linking of thanks and giving.
Cultivating a Heart of Thanksgiving
So, what is our lesson today? Listening to Paul instruct the Corinthians here opens our eyes to the powerful impact of gospel-motivated giving to cultivate a thankful heart. Faith-filled generosity that is birthed in one’s heart as a response of thanksgiving to God for his inexpressible gift in Christ, ends up overflowing in many thanksgivings to God in the hearts and lives of both the receivers as well as the giver. Thankfulness produces generosity, which produces ever more thankfulness!
It could seem strange to us to think that giving actually produces thankfulness, rather than just expressing it. But there are hints of that truth sprinkled throughout Scripture.
Psa.112 (quoted here ) suggests in several ways that thanks-giving to God is strengthened in the heart of the (righteous) man whose generosity was first motivated by thanksgiving.
Jesus said that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Mat.6:21), suggesting that there is an engagement with God on the far side of our giving that isn’t even present as our generosity is motivated by thanksgiving to Him.
And when Paul reported Jesus as saying: It is more blessed to give than to receive (Act.20:35), as in 2Co.9, the multiplied thanksgivings that flow from generosity are manifestations of God’s faithful blessing. And they bring Him glory.
Thus, giving generates thanksgiving. Joyful, generous, gospel-motivated giving is one reliable way to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving, and so to glorify God. So, what do we do with this insight? We could start by seeking to hear and embrace Paul’s line of thought here in 2Co.8-9. It’s captured well in his charge to the Corinthians in 8:9 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. Giving is a unique response to the grace of God given to us in Christ—grace appears seven times in cc.8-9 in our ESV.And the transformation that is needed in our human hearts to give as Christ gave, to give as the Macedonians gave—according to their means, and even beyond their means, of their own accord, begging earnestly for the favor (the grace [same word, eighth appearance]) of taking part in the relief of the saints—that is not natural! It’s supernatural!
Here at GCD we hold giving with a very open hand. We know it is an act of corporate worship, uniquely indicative of a heart transformed by gospel grace, as we’ve just said. Yet we do not pass offering plates during our service, for the needs of the Church or the needs of the poor, though we actively address both of these. Those who started GCD made that choice as a conspicuous expression of trust in God to meet our needs. And He has done so throughout our thirty-three years as a body. Our present Elders honor that choice because we do not believe God has led us to change it. But we recognize that our decision risks letting giving slip off the spiritual radar of otherwise faithful believers. And we can also see from this passage that failing to press ourselves toward faithful giving as Paul is pressing the Corinthians here is forfeiting a golden opportunity to cultivate thankful hearts among us. That is why I wanted to bring it to our attention today. I want to urge us to press on in our giving, to excel in this act of grace toward cultivating a thankful heart, and also toward seeing our great and generous God prove His faithfulness once again to us in the meeting of many needs through us which magnify His glory among us.
So our first action point this morning, our charge toward cultivating a thankful heart, is simply this: give. To borrow the words of God Himself through the prophet Malachi—using the OT pattern of tithing, which doesn’t govern NT giving but is surely a helpful point of reference—God said: Mal.3:10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. This is the same sort of imagery we see is 2Co.9, Psa.112, and more, all enabled by God’s generous grace, and His inexpressible gift!
And our second action point is to come together to the Table of the Lord to give thanks to God once again for his inexpressible gift—we do this all four Sundays in November, seeking God to help us cultivate thankful hearts.